Tag Archives: Barack Obama

They Marched With Praying Feet.

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“I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

~ Frederick Douglass.

On Wednesday 28th 1963 standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream Speech” before 300,000 onlookers during The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in one of the largest political rallies in United States history.

Following the American Civil War, in 1869 the 14th Amendment to the United States constitution had given former slaves equal protection under the law and overruled a Supreme Court decision in 1857 which held that Americans descended from African slaves could not be citizens of the United States. However, the presence of Jim Crow law in the South systematized economic, educational and social oppression against black Americans and meant that in 1963, almost 95 years after being elevated from slaves to citizens, black Americans were still regarded as socially and legally inferior to their white counterparts.

But why do men and women so often march?

Far from a simple walk, marching is the entreaty reserved for those who have learned to pray with their feet. An exercise in faith for those who consider prayer a petition that, when done in noteworthy multi-ethnic numbers, can cause the gods to stand to attention. When you take to the streets. When you literally walk in your calling you are calling on a higher power to commit to a higher cause. If prayer gives God license to move on the behalf of the faithful few then marching authorizes Him to certify, not just the rights, but also the freedom of many.

By 11am on Wednesday 28th August 1963, more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners and an inestimable number of automobiles meant that the 300,000 marchers who converged at The Washington Monument to advance to The Lincoln Memorial had done so in a peaceful demonstration of prayer with the power of praying feet.

From Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr – civilians and activists of the modern era who had sung, sat and given speeches convened in the name of civil rights and united to walk in one accord.

Millions of marchers the world over continue to walk in peaceful protest but fifty years on for many of those who walked in faith their prayers remain unanswered and so the march goes on, but just how tired are those praying feet of being unheard!

‘This Thursday, half a century after King preached about equality, justice, non-violence, and an unpaid promissory note, Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There is no doubt that much has changed. But the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been gutted, Detroit is in bankruptcy, our prisons are bursting at the seams with black men, most of our urban school systems are still failing dismally, it is not yet safe for a black teenager wearing a hoodie to walk through a white neighborhood, and to be black in America is still to be the other. I wish more had changed …’

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My Dad Was Right.

‘We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers’.

Martin Luther King (Eulogy for the Martyred Children, 1963)

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In the middle of the back garden there once stood a rotary washing line with four arms where mum would use wooden pegs to fasten our wares to its fine plastic lines and wait for new wind to steal the old water and make our clean clothes wearable again.

It was there mum hung my periwinkle pyjama top with the navy blue cotton belt that I often wore to bed. I never wore the trousers, instead I fashioned the top into a sort of dress, cinching the waist so that the material below it would flare out like a frock, before placing an old white t-shirt over my head which became my hair.

In the dark of my bedroom at the top of the house, every night between the ages of 8 and 9 years old, I became a teenage white girl with a summer dress and long flowing blonde locks and my bed became my own Degrassi Junior High. I became Stephanie Kaye. Unlike Precious I did not want to be a white girl, but I wanted what that white girl had – packed lunches instead of school dinner; name brand instead of bastard trainers and the attention of the black boys.

One night, back in 1989, I went to the school disco, my hair was wrapped into a bun and my periwinkle dress was slashed at the back and tied at the waist. I danced in the dark to the music in my head until suddenly the bedroom light came on and there in the doorway of my room at the top of the house stood my Jamaican father. His dreadlocks were thicker, longer and more real than the soiled white t-shirt I had attached to my head. The belt that held his trousers together was much better than my navy blue cotton – which fell apart to reveal my naked black boy flesh – and was what he used to beat me.

I stood my ground and let my dad beat me without a fight. He had the right to beat me and I had the right to take it.

Whether he beat me because I was ruining the furniture or ruining my future was beyond me, but I had no idea at the time why my wrapping a t shirt on my head and putting my pyjama top on back to front would cause my dad such angst and alarm. Clothes it seemed, even when they came at a low cost, came with a high price attached. Worn in the wrong way, clothes gave men the right to beat us.

Fast-forward almost a quarter of a century and I do not wear dresses, wigs, heels or makeup. To many in my community, despite my proclivity for penetrating men, I turned out OK. In short, because I do not dress like a woman, I will not be harassed like one. According to a close friend, I dress like a man.

Given that I wear hooded tops to disguise my bodily shortcomings; I rarely shave; I despise fragrances on my skin or on any man and I do not spend copious amounts of time before a mirror, primping and preening, I would say I am closer to the modern woman than the modern metrosexual man, but who am I to say who I am.

Aside from my laziness being an incredible turn on (his words; not mine) for some men, there are no other benefits to being bedraggled. In fact, being bedraggled comes with as much drawbacks as being well-groomed for a black male in a developing nation, because though I can change the colour and style of my clothes to fit in, I cannot (and would not, may I add) change the colour of my skin, which means I never will fit wherever in may be.

The voice of the dominant culture has spoken regarding the recent death of a 17 year old black male and it says run and you will be chased; stand and you will fall.

Black skin. Can’t win.

I have never been chased by a man wielding a weapon, but only because I have never run. Faced with attack, running is the smartest thing to do, but I have been taught by the same man who beat me from that doorway in 1989 that it is better to stand my ground, to fight like a man and die fighting rather than die running. This ideology is not uncommon to children of black parents. Running is seen as an act of cowardice. It is better to stand your ground, be beaten and die the death of a soldier than to run and escape with the life of a coward.

The Stand Your Ground law, far from being just a US legal means of self-defence is what black men are taught by their black fathers. My black father was never absent, he was always present in our home and whenever he beat me, I stood my ground. In my adolescent years when he expressed utter disgust at what he assumed to be my disgusting lifestyle, I stood my ground. When he hurled abuse, I stood my ground. When he tried to take my life, I stood my ground. When I survived the attack, I stood my ground in the dock, testified against him only to have him, like Zimmerman, acquitted.

I stood my ground when, aged 19, I was attacked by three white males. They flung a paving stone in the back of my head in South Bermondsey, London and were gone with the gust of wind that carried their fury and left the imprint of their ignorance in the back of my head. Years later, in a fit of verbal abuse, my dad said it was done because my clothes and my life were too colourful. The t-shirt I was wearing was the one he had gifted me from Jamaica. It was the colours of the flag.

Dwayne Jones was a 17-year-old male cross-dresser from St James in Jamaica. His lifeless body was discovered with multiple stab and gunshot wounds last week after he was chased by a baying mob and killed after being caught dancing with a man while dressed as a woman. George Zimmerman chased Trayvon Martin and we all know how that ended – with a bullet in the heart.

They did the smart thing; the right thing and yet it still turned out so stupidly wrong.

I told a friend of mine my story of the periwinkle pyjama top two days back and we laughed. We laughed because it is funny. We laughed because it is uncomfortable. We laughed because we were sorry that a child could be beaten, not celebrated, for expressing himself. We laughed because black men used to be safe in the dark.

In a speech given late last week Barack Obama said: “When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. And another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago.” 

16 years ago I could have been Trayvon Martin.

16 years ago I could have been Dwayne Jones.

Children dress as they do to hide the fact that they fit into their clothes but they do not fit well in their skins, classrooms, communities and, often, families. Adolescence is a time when the body and mind are evolving rapidly and for young black men, who are taught by our parents to stand our ground, it is a time when we are afraid to do as we are told and so we are seen to be acting out. We are afraid to be unafraid like our fathers. We are too loud to be quietly fearless like our mothers and grandmothers who have held their peace and allowed their God to fight their battles. We are as afraid to run and live as we are to stand and fight. It is not disobedience. It is fear.

We can boycott Russain vodka. We can boycott Jamaica as a tourist destination. We can boycott Florida. Our boycotts may break the legislation but it would be better to break the system that produces and exonerates men who claim lives and claim to have been standing their ground. I stood my ground and no one died.

My dad was right – You can change the law, but it is best to change the lawbreaker.

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Reclaiming ‘98 – The Year of Black/Gay Hate.

Jason CollinsJason Collins is a trending topic; the new hashtagged thirty-something face of the black gay man. Where Frank Ocean seemed to stumble awkwardly; keeping one foot lodged in the closet with pop culture poignancy, Collins confidently removed the closet door, exposed the hinges and said it: “I’m black. And I’m gay.”

In case you had not heard, Jason Collins is also a basketball player. Basketball players wear jersey numbers the way soldiers wear bullet holes – with pride. Jason’s number is ’98 and as he quite rightly states: “The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998.”

Unfortunately, Collins is right. On October 7th ‘98, Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming was kidnapped, tortured and ‘lashed to a prairie fence’ where he hung in the ‘cold and barren foothills of the Rockies’ in Laramie, Wyoming. He died five days later aged 21 years old.

Shepard’s death at the hands of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, both of whom are currently serving double life sentences for his murder, is littered with the cruel irony of one stifled by anonymity in life only to be brought to disclosure in death. Matthew Shepard was gay, but being gay was not the cause of Shepard’s death. The cause of Matthew Shepard’s death was a combination of ignorance, hatred and a .357-Magnum pistol Ryan Bopp, an associate of McKinney’s, traded with him for a gram of Crystal Methamphetamine while on a drug binge in the week before the crime that changed America.

Eleven years later, Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Act 2009 that made it a hate crime to assault any individual based on sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. Jason Collins changed his life; Matthew Shepard changed the law.

So too did James Byrd Jr. when, like Shepard, he accepted a lift on June 7th ‘98 from some white men. Unlike Shepard, Byrd was not gay; like Collins, he was black and those three white men were supremacists. After being urinated on, beaten and fastened to the back of a pick-up truck by his ankles, Byrd Jr. was driven three miles at high speed over an asphalt road until his body hit a culvert, he was decapitated and died. Like Matthew Shepard, he was alive throughout his entire ordeal.

If the number ‘98 is a testament to his sexuality, it is also a testament to Collins’ blackness. Collins himself stated his race before he stated his same-sex preference, because like Laramie, the NBA, NFL, FA and various religious denominations; the black community is historically ‘the kind of place where it’s OK to be gay, as long as you keep it quiet.’

Justin Fashanu lived and died on the front page. He first hit the headlines when he signed to Nottingham Forest football club in August 1981 to become the first black professional footballer to sell for £1million in the UK. He hit the headlines a second time in 1990 when he came out in The Sun, a tabloid, newspaper under the headline: “£1m Football Star: I AM GAY.” When Fashanu was found dead, hanging in a derelict garage in Shoreditch, London on May 3rd ‘98, the headline in the same paper labelled him ‘a predatory gay man.’ Fashanu, the poster boy of premiership football, had been mercilessly torn down.

The veneration that led Matthew Shepard to become the poster boy for gay rights in U.S mainstream media has evaded Fashanu since his death (perhaps due to self-inflicted nature of his death) but just like Fashanu, Matthew Shepard’s life was not without its challenges. He was gang raped on a family excursion to Morocco, diagnosed HIV positive after the assault that led to his death, suffered with occasional bouts of clinical depression, for which he was heavily-medicated and there were also bouts of self-medication; Crystal Methamphetamine his drug of choice. The challenges, that both these men lived with, symbolic of the glaring reality of being socially stigmatized and brutalized that gay men face daily often in an effort to inspire their depression or death.

The evolving identity of the gay man has a new face in 2013; it is black and gay but there is often a downside to being the poster boy! Jason Collins is not the first but he is certainly the most fêted. He wears Shepard’s number to remind the world of ‘98 – the year of black/gay hate – but with the relative (in comparison to his fallen counterparts) safety of worldwide celebrity, a democratic black president, Oprah interviews and changing attitudes in society it would be wise to not forget those who hung, bled and sacrificed their lives so that men like Jason Collins – black men; gay men – might live freely, openly and, hopefully, with a reduced threat of attack.

Jason could have walked quietly from the closet into consciousness but he did not and now as the new poster boy of same-sex progress, in sport, society and in the black community, let’s hope that his stand results in a fall in the number of hate crimes and suicides amongst gay teenagers and young adults, because we all know that gay men in sport tend to be a whole lot safer than gay boys in school playgrounds, churches and homes.

Jason Collins is a brilliant and courageous man, but young people need real models as well as role models. Time will tell how real a role model the new poster boy truly is.

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The Final Mile: 1 Act of Terror. 2 Bombs. 3 Dead.

In Ancient Greece there was only one winner per event in the Olympic Games. The winner was crowned with an olive wreath.

“What is the prize for the winner?” asked Xerxes.

“An olive-wreath” came the answer from among the Arcadians.

“Good heavens! What kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for possessions, but for honour.”

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 130415180137-34-boston-marathon-explosion-horizontal-galleryIt’s Monday April 15th 2013. 24,662 competitors are in Hopkinton, a town in Middlesex County, MA, less than 30 miles west of Boston, to take part in the 117th edition of the Boston Marathon.

Before they set of at 10 am (EDT) 26 seconds of silence are observed in honour of each one of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I am careful to not call them by their perpetrator’s crime, for though they became his victims, they will ever be twenty children and six adults. They will ever be human.

Yesterday, at approximately 12.25 pm (EDT), on Boylston Street in Boston, MA, 23 year old Ethiopian, Lelisa Desisa crossed the finish line first, to receive $150,000 in prize money and was crowned with the winner’s traditional olive wreath. Just over two hours later, at 14.50pm (EDT) two separate explosions occurred, 50-100 yards apart, and the race Desisa had spent months training for and the victory he had spent 2 hours, 10 minutes and 23 seconds securing, went up in a cloud of crude white smoke. Desisa crossed the line first, but yesterday in Boston, no one won.

In the event of tragedy no one, neither target nor terrorist, ever wins.

Within moments of the two explosions, the modern world did what the modern world often does in response to timeless tragedy. The Modern World pointed the finger.

Opinions, tweets and status updates from prognosticators, social commentators and media outlets begun fuelling speculation, making unfounded accusations, guessing as to the nature and intention of the perpetrators, igniting statements of Islamification as ‘Muslims’ quickly became a trending topic on Twitter and further releasing the all-too-familiar fear factor into the public domain.

ImageSpurred on by the sound of international panic alarms and united in the mindless antagonism of the afraid, the Modern World became as explosive as the bombs that had only just been detonated. Before we knew how many, if any, had died. Before we knew how many had been injured and how severely, we were ready with our conspiracy before our compassion, ignoring the fallen and feeding our own urgent need for information, before President Barack Obama disseminated these wise words:

“We still do not know who did this or why, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions until we know the facts. We will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.”

 

The aftermath – the period of grief designated to surveying damage – will likely prove what we have long known, that we are a predictable people whose collective response to tragedy is often unsurprisingly, Hope and the act of faithless praying to physically absent deities we regularly ignore, about a very clear and present danger to the societies we inhabit.

The problem with The People is the Hope. It was there at the starting line; ten miles in it seemed like it had deserted their lungs and limbs as they panted for breath and the pace slowed, but once the explosions occurred, Hope disappeared altogether. In its place came Defiance as The American People remembered the broad stripes and bright stars that had carried them through many a perilous fight previously.

Footage showed those who kept on running, those who stopped, those who fled and those who turned back, who are the enduring proof that our combined humanity in times of trial is a greater threat to terrorism than terrorism could ever be to our combined humanity.

What is our combined humanity?

130415170914-23-boston-marathon-explosion-horizontal-galleryIt is the voice of the human who searches for the severed limb that it might be reattached; cradles the muted stranger and reminds them to breathe; searches for the missing child to quiet a parent’s screams. It is those who actively seek to put the people back together. It is the smallest act of defiance that replaces huger acts of reliance, like hope, in the race against terrorism.

It is those who refused to run and remembered the race that they are committed to above all others – the human race – who prove that acts of terror will not triumph and that humanity will ever claim the traditional olive wreath.

Yes We Can is notable as Barack Obama’s famous slogan of hope that infiltrated international rhetoric, during his Presidential Campaign back in 2008. A slogan that diverted global thinking and disguised a shared universal desire to sometimes not be brave and to admit that though we are confident in our Union Jacks and Star Spangled Banners, there are times in our homes and on our streets that, despite heightened security systems, we are still troubled by the potential of large-scale terrorist attacks. Hope, far from being the antidote of fear, is often what cripples and imprisons people who become resigned to the idea that the world will fix itself and everything will work out just fine. The power in the despair of events such as the Boston Bombings is that they set the people free from the reliance of Yes We Can into the  defiance of No You Most Certainly Will Not.

Losing hope has its benefits. When we lose hope, we are free to stop investing in speculation and conspiracy and protect ourselves through integration, resilience, education and vigilance. No one ever sees it coming, that does not mean we should not look out for it.

130415171849-24-boston-marathon-explosion-horizontal-galleryIn the coming days, there will be claims or accusations of responsibility. Once we find someone to blame and guilt is successfully administered we will begin to feel innocent again and this tragedy will become coffee shop conversation as gradually the column inches diminish and in a year, when the runners line up in Hopkinton in 2014 they will do so in a respectable silence to honour the dead. News crews will show up in their hundreds to report the event and a camera will pan to a runner wearing a black armband to remember those who within a matter of weeks we forgot in an effort to, once again, forget that we live in a culture of fear.

In his address, Barack Obama promised to dish out the “full weight of justice” before localizing the threat:

“All Americans stand with the people of Boston”.

While I salute such nationalism, it is important to remember that terrorism is a global threat that puts the lives of us all at risk. This did not happen to America, this happened to the world.

man-on-roof-elite-daily-485x242An eerie image surfaced of a lone individual on the rooftop of a building directly above the site where the disaster unfolded. We have all seen the reconstructions of Lee Harvey Oswald’s movements in the JFK assassination and note the parallels here. We’ve all seen the images of Martin Luther King Jr. dead and the men and women on the balcony, like us, pointing the finger outwards instead of looking at the debris left by our own conspiracy.

In times of tragedy knowledge serves a greater purpose than speculation, just as defiance serves a greater purpose than hope. Yet as we edge towards the final mile in the race against terrorism, knowing full well that hope is no strategy, I am left wondering if defiance or strategy are truly effective without the ever-present threat of hope.

As such only one real question remains:

Though it continually threatens to destroy us, isn’t Hope the Terrorist we are all willing to live with?

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The Hypocrite And The Homophobe: Would You Rather Be Black or Would You Rather Be Equal?

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I abhor hypocrisy. I think if you’re going to be in the business of news, and telling people the truth, of trying to shed light in dark places, then you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to have the same rules for yourself as you do for everyone else.

Don Lemon is open, educated, handsome and always prepared and amongst his many traits, there is little or no evidence of hypocrisy. In his role as a CNN News Anchor, since 2006, Lemon has readied himself to deliver to the world, a plethora of interchangeable current affairs snippets and stories, including perhaps two of the most groundbreaking stories of the past seven years. One begun as political but quickly became social because of its protagonist. The other begun as a social announcement but became political due to its theme. Both stories involved prominent public figures. Both these public figures are men. Both these men are Black and it is that pivotal piece of information, which heightened interest in both these ostensibly groundbreaking stories.

The first story is the more obvious of the two. On November 4th 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was elected to be the 44th President of the United States of America. An accomplishment marked by a rousing victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, before an estimated audience of billions across the globe. In his fervent address, Obama noted the presence of an elusive guest that night; one that had trudged from the plantations, through the civil war and out of The House on January 31st 1865, with the Thirteenth Amendment tucked under an arm. A guest that motioned its way through the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s; saw nine black youths indicted of having raped two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama; witnessed Emmett Till murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi; battled through The Montgomery Bus Boycott; left 1964 with the Civil Rights Act under the other arm; survived several assassinations; watched a King called Rodney viciously dethroned by four white police officers before witnessing the outbreak of a momentous insurrection in Los Angeles in 1992.  A guest that came, with a sole purpose, to assume its position at the forefront of world politics:

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America”.

Change, that long distant, well-travelled relative that had wrestled its way through a tireless history of oppression had finally arrived and led the way for the first African American POTUS to assume position in office. Obama was sworn in January 20th 2009, after defeating Republican candidate John McCain, and again January 21st 2013 after retaining the title in a tactical victory against that caricature of astounding affluence and poor character, Mitt Romney.

In his 2013 inaugural speech, issued on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Obama made his political stance on Same-Sex Equality clear:

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well”.

In the following months, the expected angst and conflict amongst African Americans, in response to Obama’s announcement, never materialized, with 59% of blacks endorsing Same-Sex Marriage in the wake of Obama’s historic endorsement according to a Washington Post-ABC survey. Given Black America’s chequered past with Homophobia, one was left wondering if Black Americans had finally begun to trump the timeless taboos through a unique combination of Obama’s approval, his apparent nearness with the average man and the all-important race factor.

Was Black America finally ready to renounce Homophobia?

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Response to the second story may go some way to answering that. The second story is a story that, like Obama’s, follows the trend of change. Back in 2011, same-sex change was becoming deeply sutured into the fabric of Black American Society when CNN News Anchor Don Lemon used his bestselling memoir Transparent to reveal that he was a homosexual and then on July 3rd 2012, Frank Ocean outdid him on the PR, when he issued a statement, driving up traffic to his Tumblr page and support amongst African Americans, when he conveniently expressed (in time for Independence Day, July 4th and his album release July 17th) that at 19 years old (“4 summers ago”) he had first loved a man he calls Forrest Gump. Not the Tom Hanks great of American Cinema, but the male romantic hero of track 16 on his Grammy-Winning debut effort Channel Orange.

On January 20th 2009, when Barack, Michelle, Malia and Natasha Obama ventured into the White House it was deemed as a step up the civil rights staircase, one step closer to the Promised Land the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. swore he had seen in his iconic Mountaintop address and was largely fuelled by the support of the community Obama and his family are inherently a part of – Black America. By the same token, when Lemon walked from the closet into consciousness, detailing his same-sex preference, racism within the black community, homophobia and his own experiences of sexual abuse as a child, many of the same Black Americans who had applauded and welcomed change into their homes on November 4th 2008 now welcomed caution also, that is, until Hip Hop and Obama’s later approval begun to further soften years of culturally and religiously hardened prejudices.

According to Lemon, the reason for this is clear: “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture … you’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community, they think you can pray the gay away. I guess this makes me a double minority now.”

What Obama’s endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage and Lemon’s revelation both tell us about “post-racial” America is that Race still matters and that perhaps it matters more than Equality, leaving many to question: Would you rather be black or would you rather be equal?

One look at, the newly-christened, Snoop Lion’s commentary on the matter of Frank Ocean, Homosexuality and Hip Hop provides an interesting angle:

“Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine.” He continues, “It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes; then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.’ You know, that’s going to be tough …”

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The focus on Black Male Masculinity once again raises the issue of a gulf between what is acceptable and what is equal and where the public image of the black man lies between those two opposing poles.

Snoop Lion is seen to voice concerns that Frank Ocean’s revelation of his same-sex preference, may well pose a challenge or threat to Hip Hop and also Black Male Masculinity.

According to Michael C. LaSala, director of the Master of Social Work program at Rutgers University School of Social Work. “Parents and youths alike worry that gay men cannot meet the rigid expectations of exaggerated masculinity maintained by their families and communities.”

After reading through Asia Brown’s A Letter To My Black Gay Brothers, dated Tuesday April 2nd 2013 on http://www.musedmagonline.com, and considering the question of what it means to be black male and masculine in Modern America, I would go so far as to say that despite recent evidence of significant change in the Black American political and social dynamic, the presence of both ‘angry black man’ and the ‘passive black gay accessory’ stereotyping threaten to send the same change that showed up November 4th 2008, running away from consciousness, back down the civil rights ladder and back into the closet of caution.

This letter http://www.musedmagonline.com/2013/04/a-letter-to-my-black-gay-brothers/ while thought-provoking, is loaded with passive-aggressive bigotry and best viewed as subterfuge. There are a number of incidents within the underlying argument that speak of someone who admits having perpetuated bigotry but refuses to fully admit, like Snoop Lion, being the bigot she speaks of, instead blaming the black gay brother, she is referring too, for antagonising her into a bigoted behavioural pattern.

Shouldn’t we all claim full responsibility for our bigotry, regardless of the  incentive?

In her epistle, Brown somehow manages to polarise every Black Gay Man as part of the type she is accustomed to. Her letter has no addressee, which, though it may be an oversight, is in fact the most crucial part of that which afflicts these two arguments – they do not, neither of them, know exactly who they are talking to!

Asia’s impassioned homily is to the many best friends, mentors and colleagues she has had, who have been homosexual! Men she values so highly, she does not see fit to salute them. As for Snoop, his: “I don’t have a problem with gay people. I got some gay homies,” is indicative of a huge problem many Black Gay Males face with self-identified black male heterosexuals the world over, it is called Xenophobia. The deep-seated and irrational rejection, hatred and fear of the foreigner.

As a direct result of this fear, suspicion surrounding the homosexual’s sexual motives with the straight black male arise leading to alienation since embracing and engaging with the subject of one’s fear could mean losing one’s masculine identity, force one into an out group and thus a desire to eliminate the gay male; to secure and purify the black cultural spectrum and the race-related concept of black male masculinity ensues.

Xenophobia far from being just an issue of shame relating to the other’s sexuality is also an issue of gender identity and cultural safety relating to its protagonist.

A Letter To My Black Gay Brothers also makes reference to Black Gay Men as ‘brothers’. This shouldn’t be an issue, but it is because it revolves around the issue of the black gay brother in a family setting without fully exploring his role as a blood family member or as a member of a wider social network not limited to blood relationships. Asia does promise to further explore the black gay brother’s role further, but her promise comes with conditions attached.

Rather than simply pointing out her own shortcomings, Asia points out those of her black gay brothers also, but surely not every black gay brother the world over is the same with identical issues. I guess there is no need for a response then, or perhaps in not addressing this letter to anyone that is the whole point of the epistle. Perhaps Asia would have fared better addressing this letter to herself and told herself what she will and will not accept in a relationship with her black gay male friends.

In putting herself at the centre of her argument, Asia would have made it clear exactly who she is referring to – her black gay brothers and how the dysfunction between them needs to be resolved through a rigorous course of action. I suggest that Black Gay Brothers the world over would have better seen how they have harmed Asia’s straight black female then, rather than being made guilty of their crimes without an opportunity to plead their case and therefore becoming defensive for being grouped together under the black gay brother banner. Contrary to traditional rhetoric, we are not all family in that respect. We all need to reach our own epiphany, realise our own bigotry and do better of our own accord. You cannot force change, at best you can create a space for change to come in at its own pace, as Obama’s presidency and Lemon’s zesty revelation prove.

Is the use of this brothers term a passive-agressive adherence to the stereotype of all Black American people as one huge dysfunctional family and an attempt to actively engage the subject of dysfunction – Homosexuality; an attempt at reform encouraged by Change, itself once the foreigner the American Xenophobe was forced to embrace back in 2008 with the election of Obama into office. Change – the same foreigner that encouraged Black America to embrace Don Lemon and Frank Ocean and countless other black gay males.

BLACK_GAYS_FOR_JUSTICE

In January 2013, Michael LaSala, Director of the Master of Social Work program at Rutgers University School of Social Work completed Gay African-American Youth Face Unique Challenges Coming Out to Families: a study of black gay youth and their families from inner-city neighborhoods in New York City and Philadelphia. Among his findings was the suggestion that black parents tend to attach feelings of guilt to the revelation that their child is gay and discovered that a large section of black gay youths create an obvious physical and emotional distance between themselves and their parents before coming out.

Among Gay Men of all races there is alarming misogyny. Many Gay men elicit behaviours, which effectively legitimise assault and demonstrate a gratuitous sense of entitlement where the anatomy of the female is concerned. This objectification is displayed clearly in “Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends” a satirical viral campaign from College Humour urging for Marriage equality, while threatening to deprive self-identified heterosexual males of their prospective straight female partners with lines such as: “We can play her like an upright bass”.

gay-marriage-college-humorThe perpetuation of female anatomical privilege by gay males is an extension of male supremacy and sexism. Asia Brown’s plea to not disparage my body or my female genitalia in misogynist-fashion is as much a cry for ownership as it is for female legitimacy.

For breasts not to topically mishandled, but to be treated as breasts; for the female anatomy to not be marginalized but celebrated and creating a culture in which the woman retains the rights to her body and how it is treated, both on the Hip Hop record and in the hands of the gay male. I agree.

Both Barack Obama and Don Lemon are paragons of American Progressivism and Equality on the basis of Race, Gender and all else. There are millions more like them both. Men who defy type. Anchormen, not accessories. Men who challenge, rather than commit to, the status quo.

I guess I am saying, there is more to this story. Much more.

Liberalism is founded on ideas of equality, liberty and social justice. So in response to Snoop’s open mouth and Asia’s very open letter and in the name of equality, I will suggest that we all continue to keep our mouths equally closed and our eyes equally open and on the lookout for change.

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The Fateful Shot: Who Really Killed The King?

The King Is Dead

Mason Temple is the central headquarters of the largest black-led Pentecostal group in the world, Church of God In Christ (COGIC). It was there, on April 3rd 1968, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dressed in black suit, white shirt and complementary necktie, delivered his prophetic last speech at a rally before a gathered audience of approximately 15,000 people.

Amidst the compelling prose of King Jr. a sliver of doubt threaded its way into the ever-faithful rhetoric that night, exposing King Jr. for what he truly believed he was – a dead man walking; a man afraid; a preacher at peace with his ever-nearing fate: Death.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

 ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

 (“I Have Been To The Mountaintop” speech. 03.04.1968)

In the early evening of April 4th 1968, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. stepped onto the balcony of room 306, where he was staying at The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Among the few who stepped out of that room with him and into American History was Ben F. Branch, a jazz saxophonist and later entrepreneur, to whom King Jr. turned and made what, would be his final request:

“Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”

The hint of doubt of the previous night had disappeared, or had it. King Jr. when speaking of God, Civil Rights and the African-American community he lived and died for was resonant, sure, filled with poetic optimism and faithful. On the rare occasion he referred to himself, he like many a leader before him and many who have come in his wake, was haunted with hope, doubtful and incredibly aware of the vacillating humanity of himself, his audience and those individuals in his employ.

Perhaps his doubt wasn’t down to his own character; perhaps it was geared towards those ambitious few in close proximity to him at all times; perhaps it was because of them he displayed, as he had done the night previously, a hint of fear, and though we will never know for certain, we now have some idea why the man with the mouth that motivated millions; the man who had a dream, had viable reason to have the accompanying doubt that, ultimately, served to humanise him since it proves he may have questioned every man around him, but not the one above: God, in whom his faith remained unbroken until his premeditated end.

At 6.01pm that evening a .30 calibre rifle bullet entered King Jr’s right cheek and went through his neck before stopping at his shoulder blade. Shortly after he hit the ground, King Jr. was shot again, this time by Joseph Louw, a photographer. The ensuing irony is as poignant and endearing as it is sad and woeful: while the bullet shot from the rifle eventually killed King Jr; the photo shot by Louw’s camera, not only changed the photographer’s life, but immortalised the death of its subject by providing the most immediate and ignominious reminder of a decade of American History littered with the public assassination of prolific political figures.

At the time of the assassination, Louw was making a documentary about King Jr. and had arrived in Memphis to report on a march organised by King Jr. in support of striking sanitation workers. He had just walked into his rented room three doors down in the same motel where King Jr. was staying, when he heard the shots, rushed outside and took the picture. After shooting King Jr. and his assembled entourage, Louw’s next move was to take his film to Beale Street Studios, owned by Ernest Withers, himself a photographer. Withers developed the film in his dark room, producing the now iconic image.

Ernest Withers.

Widely known as “the original civil rights photographer” until his death on October 15th 2007 from a stroke, Withers, it seems, was more than just a photographer who documented the life of King Jr. and may have been one of many other as-yet-unknowns, who had some hand in his death.

In February 2013 and in response to a lawsuit from Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, 348 heavily-redacted pages of documents released by the FBI confirmed that between 1958 – 1972, Withers, a highly-regarded and trusted member of King Jr’s inner circle had worked for them as confidential paid informant ME 338-R, providing amongst other effects: photos, relevant personal details and overheard information.

At 7.05pm, at St. Joseph’s Hospital, 22 Overton Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, an hour and four minutes on from the shooting, King Jr’s personal doubts of the previous evening were laid to rest with him, when he was officially pronounced dead.

On June 8th 1968, 40-year-old James Earl Ray was captured at Heathrow Airport, London while attempting to flee the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport. After his extradition to the USA and on the advice of his attorney, Percy Foreman, he pleaded guilty and was convicted on March 10th 1969 of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison. Three days into his sentence, Ray retracted his guilty plea.

In March 1997, Dexter Scott King, the second son of King Jr, met publicly with Ray and asked: “I want to ask for the record: did you kill my father?” to which Ray replied: “No, I didn’t, no, no.” Affirming his acceptance of the denial, Dexter Scott King then went on to say: “I believe you, and my family believes you, and we will do everything in our power to see you prevail.”

April 4th 2013 marks the 45th time since that fateful evening that broadsheets, news channels and modern era social network sites have regurgitated Louw’s shot that has given life to the death of King Jr. The image of the ultimate paragon of peaceful public protest, lying dead at the feet of his stunned entourage, pointing desperately in the direction the deadly shots allegedly came from, now more than ever, stands as a testament to the various conspiracy theories surrounding the death of the King.

Following the release of the damning FBI information earlier this year, that points to Withers, a key member of King Jr’s inner circle as a mole and 16 years on from Dexter Scott King’s public affirmation of James Earl Ray’s equally public denial; similar to Ben F. Branch, Andrew Young, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the few others who lined the balcony with King Jr. that historic evening, and as can be seen in the fateful shot, we too are left pointing the finger at the world before us wondering from which direction the shots came, as the question still remains: who really killed the King?

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